Rethinking Darwin….

Descent of Man 1st ed., 1871 title page

Descent of Man
1st ed., 1871

I had an RBR session yesterday for Dr. Jerry Putnam and two of his students studying Perspectives on Darwinism.  One of the items I had out from the collection is our first edition of his The Descent of Man, and selection in relation to sex.  Here’s some information on our copy.

The Descent of man, and selection in relation to sex.  By Charles Darwin.  London, J. Murray, 1871, 2v., 1st edition.

Published 12 years after his famous On the Origin of Species, The Descent of Man was Darwin’s second work dealing with the theory of evolution and natural selection.  His first, On the Origin of Species, may be a more familiar title to many, but it is on page 2 of the 1st edition of The Descent of Man that Darwin first used the term evolution.

Vol. I page 2 Introduction chapter

Use of the word “evolution” in 1st paragraph

The Rare Book Room has a copy of the 1st edition, 1st issue, which was published in 2 volumes in a run of 2500 copies on February 24, 1871.  It was given to the library by Dr. Carlton B. Chapman, Davidson class of 1936, and a collector in the area of medical history.  It is in its original green cloth binding,

Original binding of Descent of Man Vol. I and Vol. II

Original binding

and a bookseller’s note on the title page of volume 1 indicates that it is a “1st edition as issued.”  The volumes are illustrated throughout with wood engravings.

Two images in the book of Embryonic Development. The upper figure is human embryo, fro Ecker. Lower figure is that of a dog from Bischoff.


Errata sheet Vol. I & Vol. II and Contents page Part II

Errata sheet






An errata sheet on the verso (back) of the title page of volume 2 lists the errors noted but un-corrected in the text, such as the word mail for male, and a scrambled spelling of walruses as narwhals.  Darwin also noted in a postscript that he made a “serious and unfortunate error, in relation to the sexual differences of animals” on pages 297-299 of volume 1, and admits that “the explanation given is wholly erroneous.”

Postscript Vol. I noting "serious and unfortunate error"

“serious and unfortunate error”

(Even great scientists sometimes make initial errors in discovery!)

Thanks, Dr. Chapman, for this great donation to the RBR collection.

Speak Your Mind